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A World of Products Makes It Easier to Be Green


Three words encapsulate the environmental movement:

Reduce, reuse, recycle.

They are words easy enough for children to learn and then hound their parents into complying with the idea behind them: to reduce the amount of wasteful products we use in our homes, reuse items instead of discarding them and, when we do have to throw them away, send them to the recycling center rather than the local landfill.

In these times of extreme correctness, even the way we run our households is under scrutiny. To help us save the world from wanton waste and conspicuous consumption of nonrenewable resources, manufacturers have developed easy-to-use products that require little effort from us, beyond plunking down cash.

A shower head here, reusable grocery bags there, and pretty soon you've saved enough water and trees to hold your head high on the next Earth Day. Saving resources also often means saving money, with lower water and gas bills.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 18, 1996 Orange County Edition Home Design Part N Page 4 View Desk 2 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Recycling--Due to an editing error in a May 11 feature on environmentally friendly products and programs, all appliances were included in a reference to Southern California Edison's recycling program. Only spare refrigerators or freezers turned over to the utility company earn $25 or a $50 savings bond. For information, call (800) 234-9722.

There are plenty of outlets from which to purchase environmentally correct household items. Real Goods, a retailer in Northern California, is doing a booming mail-order business with its earth-friendly merchandise, from solar showers and green diapers to organic cotton clothing.

John Schaffer created the company in 1978 out of necessity. He was living in a commune with no electricity and had no place to buy solar products or rechargeable batteries.

His company grew from providing homestead supplies for the back-to-the-land movement to supplying products for suburban families. "All of a sudden in the '90s everybody wanted to be green," he said.

It is not uncommon now to go into a supermarket and find several brands of recycled paper and plastic products, practically unheard of a decade ago. Some stores are using recycled plastic for their bags, and some reward customers for reusing plastic or other bags (Ralphs pays 3 cents and Albertson's pays 5 cents per bag when used for the next purchases).

The practice of bringing bags to a store long the norm in Europe and other nations has created a whole new industry here. Stephen Katz, founder of UnWrapped Inc. in Concord, Mass., has a line of reusable grocery and produce bags made of mesh that are sold in specialty food shops, such as Mrs. Gooch's in Tustin.

Katz made the bags after working years in the recycling business. "Recycling is great, but we as a society have to move into the realm of reduce-and-reuse philosophy," he said.

It takes several steps for a plastic bag to be recycled, he added. It has to be sorted, transported, then broken down and made into another usable item--pop bottles can be made into T-shirts, park benches and ceiling tiles. With reusable bags, the greatest output is an occasional spin in the washing machine. And air-drying, of course.

Katz's bags cost about $3. Canvas bags can be found at most grocery stores and can cost anywhere from $3 to $12.

If you just can't give up plastic grocery bags, you can at least reuse them. A swish of soapy water is all it takes to clean plastic produce bags. Then hang them on the clothes line or a drying rack. This treatment also works for closeable sandwich bags.

Racks (about $12) are usually made of wood and have room to dry several bags at once. Counter-top models can be ordered from Real Goods ([800] 762-7325) and Seventh Generation ([800] 456-1177), another catalog of earth-friendly products.

It wouldn't do to clean plastic bags with cleansers that introduce harmful waste into the environment, especially since there are safer cleaning products available.

Simple Green was one of the first cleaners on the market to be carried by the major grocery store chains, but other companies such as Seventh Generation, Nature Clean, Oasis, Planet and Ecover are making inroads with household cleaners, furniture polishes, dishwashing liquids, floor waxes, laundry detergents and window cleaners.

The cost of green products is usually higher than those of conventional household-cleaning products, but as demand for safer cleaning products goes up, retailers say, the prices will come down.

"We're finding that people are willing to pay a bit more for a product that is better for the environment as long as the quality is high," said Ken Van Der Veen, manager of sales for Orange County-based Ecover.

Van Der Veen added that the natural ingredients used in Ecover's products are becoming easy to get, which in turn is bringing down the product prices.

If the conservation of trees is a concern, there are a number of recycled paper products on the market. Or better yet, revert to cloth napkins instead of paper napkins and towels.

Water is one of the easiest resources to waste and one of the simplest for the homeowner to conserve. Simple changes, such as turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth, can save gallons of water a year.

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